Title: Atomic Blonde
Director: David Leitch
Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Roland Møller, Jóhannes Jóhannesson
Plot: It's 1989 and days before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton is dispatched to recover a microfilm that contains the details of every intelligence agent on both sides of the Cold War active in Berlin, only to soon discover that she’s not the only one who wants to find it.
Review: I’m frequently surprised by what films are adapted from graphic novels with “Road to Perdition” and “A History of Violence” being prime examples and this is certainly the case for this film which is adapted from “The Coldest City” by Antony Johnston which has since the release of the film been renamed “Atomic Blonde” to strengthen the connection to the film.
While the idea of Charlize Theron being an action star might seem like a new direction for her career following on from show stealing turn as Furiosa in “Mad Mad: Fury Road” but at the same time it could be argued that she’s had this edge to her career since turning up in the problematic yet surprisingly not terrible remake of “The Italian Job” or “Promethus” were she’s seen doing push ups when she leaves her cryo-pod while her fellow crew mates are too busy throwing up. Needless to say much like Linda Hamilton she really is the hidden gem of an action heroine as she certainly proves here as she teams up with Director David Leitch who here minus his “John Wick” co-director Chad Stahelski is clearly attempting to continue in his efforts to re-invent the modern action movie.
While it might be sold on the premise of being a female John Wick a moniker that is almost as cringe-worthy and lazy as Hayao Miyazaki being refered to as the “Disney of Japan”. Sadly this really is not we ultimately end up getting here despite Theron efforts to really deliver something special and to her credit she really is one of the few remarkable things about this film, more so when her performance was the only thing I really wanted to save while the rest of the film just left me wanting to just tear it down to the studs and start over.
For Theron this film is something of a passion project and from her performance it’s certainly clear with her training for the film which saw Theron not only cracking two teeth but also sparring with Keanu Reeves who at the time was also gearing up for “John Wick 2”. When you see them results of her hard work on screen you really have to commend her hard work especially when it adds a sense of realism to her performance. More so when it comes to the action scenes which much like “John Wick” certainly have a kinetic flow to them as well as a touch of realism as her character is frequently beaten up and blooded from each encounter while being shown taken ice baths to deal with the injuries so that she can drag herself through to the completion of her mission. If anything it was these action scenes that I wanted to revisit more than the confusing plotting surround them.
The idea of setting the film during the cold war might seem refreshing it really doesn’t give the film much outside of providing a significant event to set the finale against. More so when going into the film I had no idea that it was even supposed to be set in the late 80’s instead believing that I was going to be watching Theron kicking ass in a post Soviet Russia especially seeing the random ass get up of fellow agent David Percival played here by an underwhelming James McAvoy who I ended up wishing they’d cut from the film or better still just have Joaquin Phoenix reprise his performance from “Buffalo Soldiers” whose character is what Percival essentially is once you remove the spy antics. Sadly due to his significance to the plot we are lumbered with him.
Elsewhere we get do get smaller and more effective performances from Toby Jones who plays Theron’s MI6 superior and much like John Goodman who plays his CIA counterpart is someone I never really tire of showing up in surprising places like this, but here he is really one of the few performances that I wanted to see more of here.
Ultimately the downfall of the film can be found in the plotting which packed with double agents and the inevitable double and dare we say triple crosses end up turning into a confused mess as the relevance of certain characters becomes all the more questionable the more twists that are added while others such as Sofia Boutella’s French agent Delphine are given things to justify their presence in the story which in the case of Delphine seems mainly to provide an unrequited lesbian sex scene between her and Theron which like so much of the padding here added nothing to the story bar some brief titillation, even though the film makers have been quick to defend her role as being a way to humanize Theron’s character despite the fact we are shown numerous shots of her pining for her lover and fellow agent we see being killed at the start of the film.
Soundtrack wise it’s as predictable as to be expected as the usual 80’s pop hits are dusted off because seemingly we can’t have any mention of the cold war without Kaleida’s “99 Luftballons” working its way in there while George Michael’s “Father Figure” just feels miss placed.. We do get a couple of highlights in David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting out fire)” being used to the same effect it was in “Inglorious Bastards” with our female ass kicker putting on her make up while “London Calling” by the Clash works equally well.
Ultimately this is a forgettable spy thriller with some memorable action scenes which much like Theron’s performance will no doubt be one of the few things you remember about it when it’s over. Certainly this is a character I would see developed or dispatched on a less confused plot as this was far from the introduction it deserved.